Articles by Dennis doyle

Meet angling legends, acquire knowledge and tackle
      Chesapeake Bay has produced some of the nation’s best-known anglers, starting with Lefty Kreh and including Bob Clouser, Bob Popovics, Kevin Josenhans, Steve Silvario, Blane Choklett, Joe Cap and Tony Friedrich. These angling luminaries and many more will be on hand to meet and share information at the 18th Annual Lefty Kreh Tie Fest on February 24 and 25 at the Lowes Annapolis Hotel.
       The event has become so popular that it has expanded to two full days of seminars, expositions and exhibits, all crammed full of angling information and techniques. The focus is fly fishing, but the knowledge to be gained here is invaluable for all types of light-tackle angling and covers a multitude of species and where and how to catch them.
      Striped bass, our beloved rockfish, will be discussed in detail. You’ll also hear about redfish, bluefish, speckled and gray trout, white perch, hickory and white shad as well as any other species that visit our waters. 
      If you’ve got a yen to talk fishing, hear information from the legendary pros or curiosity about fly- or light-tackle fishing, this is the place to be. Chesapeake-area fishing guides and guide services are in attendance and eager to discuss what’s available. Don’t miss this chance to meet and hear the most skilled and creative anglers of our day.
      Fly-tying and -casting demonstrations, rod-building techniques, new equipment and fly and lure components will be on site. There will be many free as well as for-fee seminars. Admission is $10 per day or $15 for both days. Anglers under 16 and active duty military personnel are admitted free of charge. Excellent food and beverages are offered for sale.
     For more information contact Tony Friedrich: 202-744-5013; tieflies@gmail.com or Facebook , leftykrehtiefest). Or search online for Lefty Kreh Tie Fest 2018. 
Other Action
Capt. Tom Hooker Estate Sale, February 9 & 10
        For some great deals on top-grade angling tackle, try the action and prices of this estate sale. The fishing gear and equipment from Capt. Tom Hooker’s Chesapeake Bay Charter operation will be sold this Friday and Saturday from 10am to 4pm at 3802 Chesapeake Beach Rd., Chesapeake Beach. The sale includes rods, reel, line, lures, hooks, sinkers, coolers and much more. Info: Judy Howard at 410-353p5544.
 
Pasadena Sportfishing Show and Flea Market, February 17 & 18
       The 25th iteration brings lots of exhibits both indoors and out, with food and drink including their famous hot pit barbecue and oysters on the half-shell, sodas and adult beverages. Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Company, 161 Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park: 410-439-3474.
 
2018 Saltwater Fishing Expo, February 24
        The area’s top charter captains will be in attendance and giving seminars on tactics and tips for the Annapolis Chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishing Association Expo. Tackle, including lures and other equipment, on display and for sale. Delicious hot pit beef sandwiches, oysters, cold beer and other beverages sold. 8am-3pm, Annapolis Elks Lodge, 2517 Solomons Island Rd, Edgewater: $5 w/age discounts: 
http://saltwaterfishingexpo.com.

I’m buying long rods to fish from shore the windy days of early ­trophy rockfish season

       My latest fishing quest originated in last year’s trophy rockfish season as I was putting in a supply of ice for my skiff’s fish box. Parking near an SUV, I had paused to compare notes with the occupants who were as eager to get into some action as I was, using a different sort of gear.
      They were shore anglers, armed with the long surf-type fishing rods needed to get long casts off the shallow Bayside shorelines of the public areas that have become popular in recent years, especially during the early season.
      I admired the anglers for their zeal even as I pitied them for the endless and fishless hours I suspected they experienced in their pursuit of trophy rockfish from land. Yet the anglers assured me they were doing well.
      Since it was just over a week into the season, I smiled. Many anglers claim they are doing well, particularly if they aren’t. It’s really nobody’s business but their own.
      Just to reassure myself that I wasn’t missing anything, I asked if they had any pictures. Of course they did, and one dived into the SUV to fetch his phone. My jaw dropped at a picture of him and his two buddies with three of the biggest, fattest trophy rock I had seen yet that year. 
      He also confided that those fish weren’t the only ones they’d scored but conceded that they’d already been out four or five days during the trophy season. Plus, they had released some trophy-sized fish during the earlier March and April catch-and-release season. 
      My opinion of the opportunities afforded to shore anglers shifted considerably. I had not yet managed to get my skiff out on the water even once. It wasn’t that I lacked the free time. What I lacked was calm seas. It had been blowing since opening day.
      Weather is one of the biggest drawbacks of boat fishing during the trophy season. It’s not so much a problem if you’ve got a larger craft that can handle a good chop and provide shelter from the chilly winds that blow over the Chesapeake in April. For smaller skiffs like my 17-footer, it’s a showstopper. Getting out even once a week is often a challenge with our cold and windy springtime weather.
     Shoreside angling suddenly began to make a lot more sense. There are publicly accessible sites up and down both sides of the Bay, usually with a lee shore sheltered from the worst of any small craft advisory winds. If I wanted more time on the water, I decided, perhaps I should join the long-rod crowd. But the only long rods I had were fly rods.
      As it takes time (and financial resources) to put together a proper set of tackle, I put it off until the following year, which is now upon me. Doing a bit of research in the meantime, I determined what was needed and have begun to put together a couple of outfits. 
      The most popular surf sticks for shoreside fishing around the Chesapeake are nine- to 11-footers coupled with a 5000- or 6000-series spin reel capable of holding a few hundred yards of 20- to 30-pound monofilament or braid. The extra-capacity reels are necessary because shore-bound anglers often make casts of 150 to 300 feet, then have to contend with the sizeable runs of big fish.
      Right now I’m looking forward to a busy early season beginning in just a few weeks. When it’s too cold and windy to take out my skiff, I’m planning to be along a shoreline in a comfortable beach chair, clad in well insulated clothes and sipping a warm beverage, with an eye on my rods, waiting for trophy rockfish to come by and take my baits.
 
Wish a Fish Foundation Needs Your Extra Gear
      If you’ve got an excess of any kind of fishing equipment that you’re no longer using, the Wish a Fish Foundation could use it (410-913-9043). The Foundation is intending to raise money by selling donated fishing gear at the Pasadena Fishing Flea Market on Feb. 17 and 18 at Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Hall, 161 Ritchie Hwy., Severna Park.
      Wish A Fish accepts donations on Thursday, Feb. 15, when some afternoon and evening help would be welcome. Volunteers are also needed to help at the tables at the flea market (outside but in a tent) on the 17th and maybe 18th, 7:30am-2pm: 
410-439-3474.
 
 
 

The season is already underway

      It’s starting now. The yellow perch run is on the way, with the white perch run right behind it. Despite our wildly unpredictable weather this time of year, Maryland’s 2018 fishing season is opening up — whether you’re ready or not.
      Hardier practitioners will reap the first and richest bounties, as always, so don’t be misled by freezing temperatures. The fish may hesitate during periods of extreme cold but not for long. Temperature is not the primary element affecting the coming and going of fish. They’re also driven by the increasing sunlight, lunar phases, tidal flows and the inexorable changes in their bodies. Females are already swelled to bursting from the copious quantities of roe they are producing. Males are overflowing with milt.
       Staging areas are the right places to target, the deeper water up in the tributaries where the schools of fish will build up awaiting whatever secret signal their senses need to start for the headwaters to spawn. Yellow perch prefer 45- to 55-degree water for reproducing. Improbable as it seems, on a sunny, 60-degree day, the shallows of a tributary can easily reach those temperatures, though Bay waters may remain in the 30s.
       If nothing else, it’s the time to break out your spring perch fishing tackle and get it ready for action. Light lines need replacing more frequently than heavier tests, so check yours. If they appear chalky, stiff or in any way suspicious, replace them now. Four- to six-pound test is the way to go this time of year. Each spool refill at a local sports store costs $3 to $4.
        A seven-foot, medium-weight spin rod is adequate for pan fishing. However, maybe this spring is time to invest in a six- to six-and-a-half-foot light- or ultra-light-action rod matched with one of the many 1000-series spin reels. It is far more satisfying to use tackle matched to the fish, and casting the lightweight lures and baits you’ll be using will be far easier. Your accuracy will be vastly improved, and light bites will be far more detectable.
       The best terminal setup is a pair of shad darts about 18 inches below a small weighted casting bobber. You can tip the darts with grass shrimp, minnow, bloodworms, earthworms, butter worms or any combination. 
       You’ll also need some warm clothes: hip waders or high boots if you’re a bank angler, some warm wool gloves (fingerless are best) and a few hand warmers, just in case. If using minnows for bait, don’t forget a small bait net. Nothing will numb your hands faster than having to plunge them repeatedly into your live bucket for baits.
        A five-gallon pail remains the best general tackle container: bait bucket, fish holder and sometime seat for when the bite may be slow. A thermos full of hot beverage can also go a long way to making the cold more bearable.
       Yellow perch must be at least nine inches in length — a 14-incher is a citation — and the possession limit is 10 fish per day. They, like white perch, are best prepared cleaned, rolled in panko crumbs and fried in hot peanut or corn oil until golden brown. Many devotees insist that yellow perch are better than whites, though that argument could be endless.

Fish Finder

Yellow perch are moving up into the tributaries. During the last cold snap, stalwart anglers made some holes through the ice in the upper Magothy and caught a number of yellows and not just a few whites. Spawning is definitely happening, though small males of both species are always the first on station. Pickerel are also up there in the tribs. Their spawn is imminent. Don’t ignore crappie either, as they too are schooling and becoming active in fresher water.
 
Hunting Seasons
Wild turkey: Jan. 18-20
Duck: thru Jan. 27
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Whitetail and Sika deer, bow season: thru Jan. 31
Canada goose: thru Feb. 3
Snow goose: thru Feb. 3
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
 

When the cold really sets in, the hardy angler goes fishing

      Bitter cold is not enough to describe the single-digit temperatures that descended on Chesapeake Country in late December and early January.
     In Erie, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, this is what winter is like. This year the small city broke into the news (yet again) for not only low temperatures but also record Christmas snows: over five feet in four days. Weather like that is one of the reasons I moved to Maryland some 50 years ago. But for people thereabouts, it’s no big deal.
      Anglers in that neck of the woods simply make the transition to hard-water fishing. They are quite content to continue the pursuit of yellow perch, walleye, crappie, sunfish, pickerel and Northern pike throughout the winter.
     To do so, they equip themselves with ice augers, snow shovels, pop-up ice tents or small shacks on snow skids, space heaters, some tip-ups or ice rods, a slotted ice spoon for keeping the fish holes clear and some minnows or a handful of grubs or butter worms for bait. 
     Our recent temperatures have been low long enough to create safe ice (four inches or more) on many Maryland freshwater impoundments. Exclude brackish tributaries as the salt content lowers the freezing levels and the tidal currents make ice unsafe.
     Deep Creek, Smithville, Tuckahoe, Unicorn, Urieville and Waterford are among the hundred or so constructed lakes scattered throughout the state. Always keep in mind that sufficient ice is the essential requirement for safe angling. Check with Maryland Department of Natural Resources (www.almanac.com/content/ice-thickness-safety-chart) to be sure that the waters you’re interested in fishing are considered safe. 
     The basic equipment is simple, though, like my home-state ice-fishers, you can dress it up all you want. A boring auger, powered or manual, is a real help in making an ice-fishing hole, but I often used a steel spud or wrecking bar for chipping out access to the depths. Attach a rope to the bar and wrap the end around your arm so that when you break through the ice the tool doesn’t slip from your grasp and go shooting down to the bottom. 
     It is also a great advantage to have fished your chosen waters before they ice up, especially as you will have an idea of where the deeper areas lie. You’ll need at least eight feet of water to have a chance at getting fish. Avoid the areas, no matter how attractive, near any outflow as the moving water creates dangerous and unpredictable ice thicknesses. 
     An inverted five-gallon bucket with some kind of cushion makes a satisfactory seat, and a pop-up tent will break the wind — if you don’t mind cutting a hole in its floor. Space heaters can be a comfort if you are careful with the exhaust gases, always providing adequate ventilation.
    Small 18- to 24-inch rods (with appropriate reels) adapted for kids during the regular season are what you need for ice fishing. For bait, use small minnows, worms, grubs and similar trout baits, both real and synthetic. Add shad darts as an additional attractant. Small jigs and spoons will also work. Hooks up to No. 2 work well. You’ll only need a split shot or two for weight to get down near the bottom.
     Storing caught fish is simple. Dropping them outside on the ice freezes them up quickly. They are then easily handled and carried home in your bucket. The fish will generally resume activity as they thaw, so make allowances on the way to the cleaning table.

Gifts they’ll really appreciate

     What to give the dedicated Chesapeake Bay angler on your list?
     The most helpful suggestion I can offer — if you haven’t already received exact, specific instructions from the individual in question — is to remember the Rule of Don’t.
     Don’t guess. Don’t rely on your instincts (unless you fish a lot more than they do). Don’t ask a friend who kind of knows something about the sport. And don’t ask a sales clerk. If you’re not 100 percent sure that you’ve found a gift that will be gratefully accepted, don’t buy it. 
     There are, however, some exceptions, including a few of my favorites. 
Lenny Rudow’s Guide to Fishing the Chesapeake contains verified, critical information on all the brackish water locations for all the species available hereabouts. His thorough coverage of every fishable honey hole on the Bay and when it is most fruitful remains remarkable and reliable. It should be in every angler’s arsenal.
     Chesapeake Bay Foundation naturalist John Page Williams is a treasure trove of information. The Chesapeake Almanac: Following the Bay Through the Seasons continues to be the best work that thoroughly describes the workings of the watershed’s ecosystems throughout an entire year, knowledge useful for every dedicated angler.
      My third book recommendation, Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner, has been around for almost a quarter-century. That means there are now a lot of adults who were too young to appreciate the Pulitzer Prize-winning book when if first appeared in bookstores. Beautiful Swimmers remains the most readable, informative book ever published on Maryland’s favorite crustacean and the watermen who pursue them.
      Technical gadgets for the angling and sporting adventurer include The Personal Locator Beacon. It may be just the answer for outdoorpersons who insist on traveling to god-knows-where, in any kind of weather, at all hours, in fanatical pursuit of their passion. If catastrophe befalls them and other forms of communication have failed, these small devices can lead rescuers promptly to the exact location of our more foolish loved ones.
      New electronic flares are safer to use, have a signal far more visible and last far longer than the older, fire-breathing versions. A set will be appreciated by any boater.
     My final suggestion is an item essential to any outing yet often overlooked: a small, good-quality flashlight. The newer light-emitting diode (LED) models are more compact, brighter, and longer lasting. These small wonders are invaluable when accidents or breakdowns occur or whenever operating in the dark. They make excellent stocking stuffers as well as presents at gift exchanges. I’m partial to the Surefire G2X and the Nitecore EA41.
You’ve gotta have hope to wring the last fish out of the season
     The pictures Mike showed me were what I hadn’t seen for too long, two nice 35-plus-inch rockfish with heavy bellies and dark, shiny stripes. They’d been caught by friends earlier that day.
      Then he made an offer I ­couldn’t turn down.
      “Ryan’s picking up the menhaden, chum, snacks and water in the morning,” he said. “Meet us at the dock at 7am.” 
      The morning was cold, in the 30s, but no wind. I dressed in my usual: thick fleece unders, flannel-lined heavy canvas shirt topped with a foul-weather vest. 
      We headed out believing that sizeable fish could still be loitering in the neighborhood. Ryan set the anchor at the channel edge off Sandy Point while Mike and I cut bait, put the chum bag over and set out rigs.
       Chunking the remainder of the two baitfish we had used, we pitched the pieces off the sides and stern and settled down to await the action. So far this fall, big fish have been darn few and far between. But you’ve gotta have hope, and those photos had prompted a lot of it.
      The first bite, not long in coming, hit a rod next to Mike. He picked up the rig and thumbed the spool as the fish slowly took the bait out cross-current. After a long count, he put the reel in gear. The line came tight, and he set the hook. The rod arced over, and the fish started its first run. A glorious moment, it seemed.
      About 10 seconds later, the line went slack. Mike cranked madly, hoping the fish had turned toward the boat. Then he dropped the bait back in hopes the fish was still following. Finally there was nothing but despair. How could it have come off after running that long after the hook set?
      It was easily an hour before the next bite. This time Ryan was the fall guy. He picked up the rod to check if the fish was still mouthing the bait.
      It had not only tasted the bait but absconded with it. Ryan was in the hot seat trying to explain how a fish could unbutton a piece of menhaden from a needle-sharp hook 30 feet down.
     We had a number of other tense moments as rods quivered suspiciously and otherwise acted as if something were molesting our baits. But nothing developed. By noon we had exhausted our bait and chum and headed home before the onset of hypothermia.
      We decided on the way in that we would immediately make plans for doing it again, soon, before the season ends December 20. 

Fish Finder
      Anglers out on the rare good day with calm winds are finding nice rockfish and getting limits, sometimes promptly. The warm water discharge areas of the shoreline utility companies are concentrating nice fish and sometimes really big ones. 
      Farther south (mouth of the Potomac and down) and north (the Patapsco and above) fish 30 inches and above are coming in from the ocean. In-between areas (the Magothy to the Thomas Point Light, down to Chesapeake Beach and over to the mouth of the eastern Bay) are finally holding fish into the mid 20s.
      Fresh alewife and sizeable bull minnows are producing when fished deep over good marks. Trolling with mid-sized and smaller plastics, spoons and surgical hoses along the shallow shorelines near the mouths of tributaries and deep along channel edges are doing well. Trollers also have an advantage in searching out schools still on the move. Shore anglers are beginning to score in the evenings on fresh menhaden or jumbo bloodworms.
      White perch are gathering in deeper water (30 to 50 feet) over shell bottoms.
 
Hunting Seasons
Whitetail deer and Sika deer, firearms season: thru Dec. 9
Seaduck: thru Jan. 12
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Rabbit: thru Feb. 28
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28
http://dnr.maryland.gov/huntersguide/Documents/Hunting_Seasons_Calendar.pdf
 

You can catch a fish, but take care not to catch hypothermia

     Yes, it can be uncomfortable but it can also be exhilarating to catch fish this time of year. Even in the low 40s, you can catch fish, particularly rockfish and white perch.
     But before you even think of going out, take two precautions.
     Do not go out on the water when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
     Do not go out alone this time of year. The chief danger, hypothermia, manifests first in clumsiness and confused thinking, neither conditions you should deal with by yourself. 
     If you go, your keys to success are clothing and tactics.
 
Clothing
     Layering is the primary consideration, with the innermost layer being key. Always start out with expedition-level undergarments. Fleece is warm and comfortable, but high-tech synthetics excel at wicking moisture away from the body, an important feature if part of your trip involves strenuous exercise, such as kayaking, hiking or flyfishing.
     Heavy shirts, sweaters and vests are intermediate layers to give you an added edge against cold temperatures. In this category, wool is excellent. Insulators such as down and down-like synthetics don’t function well when compressed, and almost all are poor to non-performing if they get wet. 
     A good warm hat, particularly one that covers your ears, is essential. It conserves your body heat and, in the case of flyfishing, can protect your ears against an errant back cast. Carry a backup. Motoring by boat, a hat can easily be lost overboard, and if you have a ways to go to reach home, you will quickly be miserable, if not in pain, without one.
      Complete your angling outfit with a waterproof breathable shell or insulated jacket. The Gore Tex models or their clones (the patent for Gore Tex material expired long ago) are the best and will keep you dry and immune to frigid winds and high-speed slipstreams.
     Shoes or boots should also be waterproof and, if not insulated, must be roomy enough to allow for a thick pair of wool socks. Neoprene is excellent for waterborne footwear, as is any shoe designed for winter sailing, the only other aquatic sporting activity that has a similar, fanatical following.
     Gloves and mittens are a final necessity. Mittens are superior in the warmth department though they sacrifice dexterity. For digital angling activities, I prefer simple fingerless all-wool gloves that can be coupled with air-activated hand warmers such as Hot Hands. 
     Always place the handwarmers in your gloves or mittens on the back of your hands. They are less likely to get wet there and the back of your hand is where the veins are most exposed. Warming up your blood will warm up the whole hand.
 
Tactics
     The tactics of the wintertime angler may also require some modifications from traditional techniques. 
     Fish are cold-blooded, and their metabolisms slow down significantly with low temps. They will feed more tentatively and become much more reliant on their sense of smell/taste to find food, although they will take an artificial bait if presented properly. That generally means low and very slow for everything.
     Don’t stay out too long. Don’t give in to that urge to prolong a good bite while suffering extreme discomfort. Extended exposure to cold can produce poor mental functioning and bad decisions. Stay safe, go home early and save some fun for tomorrow.
 
Filling Your Thermos
     Drinks for cold weather angling should definitely exclude alcohol, the only liquid that can give you the impression of warmth while actually reducing your body’s ability to produce it. A large thermos of hot water, tea, coffee or similar beverage (I know of one gentleman who prefers steaming Dr. Pepper) will keep your core temperature up and maintain your hydration.
Getting equipped to clean your tackle will postpone that day of reckoning
     First it was wind and plenty of it. Then rain. Gazing at the dreary, sodden, gale-racked scene from my writing chair, I admitted that foul weather is finally descending on us. We will get days on the water, but more often than not, we won’t.
     Behind me was the tangle of gear I had ignored for some time. Two rod racks hold more than 20 outfits, sufficient for most of the rigs I commonly use. When I’m in a sweet run — weather, tides and fish all cooperating — I don’t put the rods where they belong. I lean them somewhere convenient. My room looks like a forest of falling timber. 
     With fishing in the near future doubtful, I considered cleaning my gear in preparation for wintertime storage. Taking stock, I saw missing maintenance items, mostly products that had been hijacked for household use.
     A list was what I needed. I liked the idea. A list would take me a while. Then I would have to make a trip to buy what was missing, thus putting off cleaning anything. Perfect. 
     The first item on my list is Soft Scrub. A wonderful cleaning product containing a mild abrasive, Soft Scrub is perfect for resurrecting a fresh gleam from a fish slime-encrusted rod. I made a note to get the kind without bleach, as I always get some on my clothing and it leaves its mark.
      The Soft Scrub is used on a sponge so I’ll need a few of those. There are at least one or two in the kitchen, but my wife would not like me using them on tackle contaminated with menhaden residue or worm goo. She might think I would return them for further use on pots or pans, though I assure you I would not.
     A toothbrush is also handy for cleaning the guides on a rod or the crevices of a reel. They are useful for many applications and, with a good dollop of Soft Scrub, can make a tedious job much easier. I added a couple of inexpensive brushes to my list. I offer a word of caution: To avoid embarrassing confrontations, an angler should not purchase any toothbrush in the same color that anyone else in the household is using.
     Regular powdered sink cleanser is also a necessity for a thorough cleaning job. I don’t recommend it for rods or reels as it is too abrasive, but it can bring a dirt-encrusted cork or foam rod handle back to great condition. It should be applied with a sponge. Never use a brush to clean cork as it can easily erode the softer parts of the surface.
     A can of WD-40 is also on the list. Both a cleaner and a preservative, it is wonderful for a quick cleaning of the surfaces of any tackle; a light covering will protect most metals during winter storage. Do not spray it directly onto reels; it is not a lubricant. As it contains a potent solvent, it can dilute or displace heavy grease or other interior petroleum lubricants. 
     As a final item, I include line conditioner. Monofilament and fluorocarbon fishing lines can dry out in storage, becoming stiff and brittle and retaining spool memory. As a last step, a thorough and generous application of a good-quality line conditioner on your spooled reels will minimize these effects and keep all types of fishing lines soft, fresh and ready to use come spring.  
     Now I’m ready to go shopping. When I get back with my replenished supplies, it will be too late to start cleaning.

Fish Finder
     On the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, another nor’easter descended on us. Expect the gale to break up and relocate the large migrating schools of baitfish as well as the rockfish that have been following them. All bets are off on how or where the bite will resume. The storm will also close down crabbing, and any spot, croaker or Spanish mackerel action. 
 
Hunting Seasons
Wild Turkey: thru Nov. 4
Sea Duck: Nov. 4-12
Duck: Nov. 11-24
Snow goose: thru Nov. 24
Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Muzzleloader season thru Nov. 21; Bow season thru Nov. 24
Woodcock: thru Nov. 24
Ruffed grouse: thru Jan. 31
Squirrel: thru Feb. 28

Research is what you call it when you’re not catching

      Thumbing the spool, I cast my lure just off a placid riprapped Chesapeake Bay shoreline. The morning had been perfect for surface plugging to cruising rockfish: The tide was in flood stage, there was little wind and the water was 66 degrees. Yet there were no fish.
      Having just worked about 50 yards of rocky shoreside with my favorite popper, a black Smack-It, I switched to a Rat-L-Trap-type lure in gold, a sub-surface producer. The three-quarter-ounce lure was easy to cast long distances, and I often used it when prospecting large unknown areas for stripers.
     “Research is what we’re doing when we don’t know what we’re doing,” Albert Einstein said, and that popped into my head after another half hour of casts and retrieves. I imagined this as angling research, unproductive but still research.
      That stretch of shoreline was one of the last resort locations for the day. Farther up the river, I had already tried a half-dozen prime spots, all places where over my many years I had caught a fish. But the results so far, no matter where I fished, were zip, nada, nothing, a big smelly skunk. This was not my first skunk of the week; it was more like the third.
     I was now into a desperate pattern, working locations where I had never caught a fish but that looked as if I should have. 
      It’s easy to remain focused when I’m fishing areas that have been productive in the past or after I have caught a few fish. I can envision the slamming strikes, the angry boils, the charging fish that I experienced in the past. But when I’m getting tired after long episodes of no fish, my shoulders starts to ache, my back begins to complain and my attention can wander.
      Long stretches of no fish can also result in depression. This will never get you any sympathy from your spouse or friends. Plus, you’re actually getting a beautiful day on the water. But any serious angler knows what I’m talking about.
      So I have to hope. I concentrate on my casting. When throwing plugs with a spin rig, you simply gauge the distance and make the throw. You’re either on target or not. But with the revolving-spool casting rigs that I use, that action can be more complicated. 
      If the initial throwing effort has caused the lure to tumble in the air, you can steady it with very light thumb pressure on the spool. Steadying the lure will cause it to become more aerodynamic, increasing your distance, and also minimize the chance of fouling the lure on the line that trails it.
       The angler with revolving-spool tackle can also alter the trajectory of the cast. Holding the rod tip off to the appropriate side and thumbing the spool will cause the lure to move to one side or the other. Thumb pressure will also shorten the cast and, if it is done just before the lure hits the water, soften the landing.
      I imagined instances where these actions might be important and practiced variations.
     At this point, a large bird wafted overhead. I looked up and realized it was a juvenile bald eagle giving me the hairy eyeball. I love to see eagles flying over the Chesapeake; they’re the only creatures I don’t resent for out-fishing me. 
       By that point the day had worn on past lunch. Hungry, sore and still fishless, I decided that the eagle would have to do it for the day. Tomorrow would be another cause for hope. Tomorrow things would be better.

Tested and true lures and bait

     Drifting to the edge of the channel in my skiff, I had my eyes glued to the electronic finder screen. A glance over my shoulder assured me that I wasn’t getting in the way of anyone navigating through the area, so I released a little more fishing line and felt the one-ounce sinker below continue its tap, tap, tapping contact over the shell-strewn contours. Perfect.
     Watching the numbers increase as the bottom fell away, I tensed as it descended through 14 then 15 feet, the depth that had proved the sweet spot.      Then the screen’s bottom image showed a long bright blob marking a tight school of perch. Seconds later, as my baited rig passed through those marks, my rod tip surged down and I felt the heavy weight of a good fish. It arced deeper as another fish jumped on. Double-header!
     Years ago, during a particularly good panfish bite, I experimented with a number of variations of two-hook bottom-fishing setups, termed hi-lo or top-and-bottom rigs, to see which were the most effective. The best setup — quite a surprise — has remained the top producer for bottom fishing throughout the years, despite any troubling instincts to the contrary. 
     I knew that twisted wire or heavy mono two-hook (maximum permitted in Maryland) setups would scare off every fish with any sense. So I started from scratch designing my own barest fluorocarbon-rigged setups for stealth and effectiveness.
     My creations of light fluorocarbon leaders, fine wire hooks and minimum construction worked well and caught lots of fish, just as I anticipated. But for due diligence, I also tried more popular rigs and hook setups. 
     What I discovered was amazing. The outlandish and all-too-obvious twisted wire top and bottom (or hi-lo) constructions out-fished everything I had so laboriously created. Far from scaring the fish off, the clumsy contraptions seem to attract the attack of panfish of all sizes.
     This was also true of the snelled hooks that I bent on the wire top-and-bottom rigs. The simple small black hook snelled with light monofilament caught fish. But the more obvious bright red No. 4 hooks, dressed with orange beads and a silver or fluorescent spinner blade, caught more panfish of every type, including the bigger, older fish that should have known better.
     Over time, I have also developed a strong preference for baiting with bloodworms. Though soft crab, grass shrimp and razor clams can sometimes provoke more bites, the bloodworms remain on the hook longer, are far more difficult for a panfish to filch and, as a result, reduce the need to rebait empty hooks. More time for your rig in the panfish zone means more hook-ups.
     My day on the water this past week with that bait and those big, obvious setups once again proved the efficacy of the terminal tackle and bait system. Perch as big as 12 inches — with the smallest just under 10 inches — made up the dozen fat keepers that accompanied me home that day. There were of course many throwbacks, but the constant action kept the day exciting.
     If you’ve a yen for some productive fall fishing, this commonly available gear will maximize your chances of a good catch. 
 
Fish Finder
     The middle Bay is plagued with barely keeper sized rockfish. Trolling has been the top producer, simply because it is superior in covering a lot of water. Bigger fish are falling to vertical jigging, but in this endeavor relentlessness is key. Bluefish are roaming the Bay, providing some lively action but ruining the bite for live-liners using spot.
     White perch are schooling in the tributaries, particularly in 14 to 16 feet of water. They’ll be leaving soon for their main Bay wintering grounds, so if you intend on putting any in the ­freezer, now is the time. 
     Spanish mackerel have shown here and there. Clark Spoons, red hoses and Captain John’s spoons all trolled at about five knots are the key to hooking up with these swift migrators.
 
Hunting Seasons
  • Ducks: thru Nov. 21
  • Snow geese: thru Nov. 24
  • Whitetail deer, antlered and antlerless, and Sika deer: Bow season Oct. 22-Nov. 24; Muzzleloader thru Nov. 21
  • Black bear: Oct. 23-26
  • Squirrel: thru Feb. 28